As the guard brought me into the room at the juvenile detention center, I paused to get my bearings. My prayer went something like this: “God, help me to express Your wisdom. Keep reminding me that each one who comes into this room belongs to You. Put Your words in my mouth.”
I was there to offer inspiration, and I’d been expecting two, three, maybe four people. Then 31 teenagers, with hands behind their back, entered and slowly made their way to rows of chairs. Thirty-one orange jumpsuits. Four young women. Twenty-seven young men. All in their teens, except two boys, age 10.
Not a single smile or hello. Their body language screamed disdain. “Thirty-one,” I couldn’t help thinking. “You have trouble just talking to your own two kids!”
A quick battle took place in my thought. “What chance do you have to help them? They’re just losers. You’ll never get their attention.” But then inspiration took over: “Are they really losers?”
Christian Science explains that fundamentally we are not mistake-prone, volatile mortals. Each of us is a child of God – spiritual, spiritually dynamic, and expressing divine dignity. And everyone – including those in orange jumpsuits – is capable of thinking and acting in a way that better and better reflects this true, spiritual nature.
So I tried to look past the orange, to see the God-given potential and good in these young people. What came to me was to challenge them to be a thermostat rather than a thermometer. A thermometer just rises or falls according to what is happening around it. A thermostat, on the other hand, regulates.
I challenged them to be spiritual healers. What we learn in our individual spiritual journeys about God as good, and about our identity as the expression of divine good, enables us to be “thermostats.” That is, to turn situations higher, holier – to uplift those we meet to greater happiness and health through the understanding of God as our divine Life. We can view ourselves and others, day by day, in that light.
Peter, one of Jesus’ followers, did this to such an extent that people yearned for even just his shadow to fall on them (see Acts 5:15). Today, too, the “shadow” of our growing spiritual understanding can help ourselves as well as others. God’s love, which is expressed throughout creation, heals minds and bodies. The more weight we put on the side of God’s goodness, the more good we’re empowered to do, no matter where we are or what circumstance we’re in.
The hour and a half we were together flew by. What had started as 31 orange jumpsuits turned into 31 precious friends. We all smiled and laughed.
At the end, one of them asked, “What is it like to change someone’s life?” This young man had started the session with arms folded and a scowl on his face. I thought he’d be the last to ask such a question. But the smile on his face and tenderness in his eyes told me that he, himself, might just be taking up the challenge.